A GAMEKEEPER illegally used traps baited with pigeons to catch some of Britain’s rarest birds, to protect his pheasants, a court has heard.

Shaun Allanson, 37, subsidised his income from working on Blansby Park near Pickering by breeding and selling game birds to shooting parties.

Goshawks, so rare they were once declared extinct, are predators but are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

Natural England officer Justine Clark was conducting a survey at Blansby Park when she found a wire cage “letter-box trap” with a slot big enough for a bird to get in but not out again, Scarborugh Magistrates Court heard yesterday.

“Inside was a buzzard eating what appeared to be a freshly killed pigeon,” said Sarah Tyrer, prosecuting for the RSPB.

Ms Clark released the buzzard and alerted police, who subsequently found a pigeon skull in the bottom of the cage and a second small trap. The officer arranged logs in front of the gate to the pen and when he returned they had been rearranged, showing someone had been inside again.

Such cages are not illegal but are only to be used for catching crows at certain times and not baited with live pigeons, the court heard.

Mrs Tyrer said the Government hadsix national wildlife crime priorities and raptor or bird of prey persecution was one of those. “Six species are of particular concern, including the goshawk,” she said. She said Allanson, who had worked on the estate for four years, supplemented his income by selling game birds for £20 to £30 each.

The pheasants were in a pen surrounded by a six-foot electric fence to protect them from predators such as foxes, before being released in July and August.

Tim Ryan, defending, said the offences cost his client his job and could cost him his firearms certificates, and he would be unable to work as a gamekeeper for years.

He said: “He realises how stupid he has been and the consequences for him, his partner and the two children.”

He said it was easy to feel pressured to “overstep the mark” in controlling pests.

Presiding magistrate Philip Catterall said: “As an experienced gamekeeper you were very wrong to get involved in this sort of activity.”

Allanson, whose family home is in Westgate, Pickering, but who lives with his partner and their two children in Priest Close, Hunmanby, was ordered to do 120 hours of unpaid work and to pay £85 costs.

He admitted two offences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, one of capturing a buzzard and another of using a cage for the purpose of injuring, killing or taking wild birds in August last year.

Guy Shorrock, senior investigating officer for the RSPB, said: “I have been picking up injured, poisoned or shot wild birds for 20 years and am fed up with it. Unfortunately, North Yorkshire has the worst problem with wild birds shot, caught or poisoned.”

He hoped England would emulate Scotland by introducing legislation holding employers to account for the actions of staff, including self-employed gamekeepers.